BILOXI — With casinos revenues sliding, gaming officials and operators in Mississippi could be on the verge of making a sizeable gamble to protect the state’s interests.
The state Legislature recently asked Allen Godfrey, executive director of the Gaming Commission to lead a task for looking into the viability of internet gaming and sports betting in Mississippi. The panel won’t make legislative proposals, but will examine how safeguards such as under-age and compulsive gambling are working in other states. The panel met for the first time last week at the Southern Gaming Summit.
“Whether it’s right for Mississippi is still the question,” said Rep. Richard Bennett, D-Long Beach, chairman of the House Gaming Committee. “I don’t know if internet gaming is the way to go. I don’t know if technology can keep up with safeguards for underage gaming and cheaters.
Bennett said there was a lot of interest from the legislature to add sports betting to the task force.
“I asked Godfrey to put it together and for us to look at it. We know sports betting is happening, it’s just not taxed.
With neighboring states like Alabama, tennessee and Louisiana holding large NCAA events, that puts Mississippi in better position for sports betting,” said Bennett. That’s different from Louisiana, which would avoid sports betting because it has an professional football team and hosts major events like super bowls, said Ronnie Jones, chairman of the Louisiana Gaming Control Board.
“I think the path Mississippi is taking is appropriate,” said Joseph L. Billhimer, President and COO of MTR Gaming Group, and former casino executive in Greenville and on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. “I would encourage Godfrey and his staff to go through and get smart of the issue.
“I think Mississippi has shown great leadership in the gaming market. I would encourage, given the revenue flatness, that they seize that opportunity to move expeditiously to be at least be in play.
“I’m not optimistic about the revenue potential of internet gaming nor do I feel federal legislation will be in our future. So I think it will take form on a state by state basis, so I think Mississippi is doing the right thing by studying all the issues and then coming out with a recommendation, and again, given my experience in Mississippi, I think the legislature will act and push the agenda forward.”